Inviting members to participate in one-of-a-kind dining experiences can not only give them greater appreciation for their club, but also for their chef.
It used to be that a seat at the chef’s table was an exclusive and upscale affair. But in recent months, club chefs have taken the chef’s table concept to a whole new level, by serving in out-of-the-box dining destinations, featuring unique themes, and working with unscripted menus.
Here are three examples:
Let it Rain
The Country Club, Chestnut Hill, Mass.
Every year, Joseph M. Leonardi, CMC, Director of Culinary Operations at The Country Club (TCC) in Chestnut Hill, Mass., hosts six “On the Lawn” chef’s tables where up to sixteen members enjoy a one-of-a-kind dining experience put on by Leonardi and his team somewhere on the club’s grounds.
“I wanted our members to be able to use the property in a different way other than for golf,” says Leonardi, who initially approached Golf Professional Brendan Walsh, Director of Grounds Dave Johnson, Director of Events Emily Goldman and Assistant General Manager Kristen LaCount with the idea for the dining series.
“It was a tough sell to our golf and grounds department,” Leonardi adds. “But once they were on board, they realized the impact this was going to have on our membership.”
In the spring, The Country Club team lays out a detailed plan for where and when each event will take place. But even the best-laid plans can fall apart—especially when Mother Nature is involved.
At the club’s most recent “On the Lawn” event in late August, massive storms popped up and dropped heavy rain just a few short hours before members were scheduled to arrive for dinner on one of the lawns.
“We had to come up with a new plan—and fast,” says Leonardi. “I didn’t want to do a traditional chef’s table in the kitchen, so I reached out to our grounds department and asked if we could do the dinner in the garage.”
Once the grounds crew realized he was serious, they set to work positioning Toro and John Deere equipment and market lights above and around a fully dressed formal dining table (see photo, pg. 12).
“It doesn’t matter which department you work for here at TCC,” says Leonardi. “We get the job done. Our goal is to exceed member expectations, and if there is any chance that we can all work together and do that, we do.”
As always, Leonardi and his team prepared and served a six-course meal to ten members, while the grounds department educated them about the different tractors, what they’re used for and how they work.
“I was able to not only showcase my team and their cooking ability, I was able to give the grounds team some of the spotlight as well,” says Leonardi.
Dreaming in Color
Beacon Hill Country Club, Atlantic Highlands, N.J.
Adam Scott, CEC, Executive Chef of Beacon Hill Country Club (Atlantic Highlands, N.J.) has been hosting chef’s tables and upscale wine dinners for years.
“The pressure is on me to come up with new ideas and ways to keep these events interesting and unique,” says Scott, who has been with Beacon Hill CC for more than a decade. “It takes a lot of work and planning, but I push to make each one better than the last.”
That includes setting personal challenges for himself that ultimately direct his menus.
“The next wine-dinner menu is ambition, even for me,” says Scott. “I was given Jordi Roca’s cookbook and I read about how he does a lot of monochromatic desserts. I thought to myself, ‘I wonder if I could do a whole menu, with pairings, where each dish is only one color.’”
Scott spent weeks working out the details, and he’s made great strides.
“The first course is going to be yellow and will feature a saffron-poached mango grit cake,” he says. “The next course will be orange, then green. Dessert will be white.”
With plans to do an orange pheasant, a beef “wellington” wrapped in leeks and a vanilla mousse with coconut, Scott and his team are excited to see what he comes up with next.
“The food must taste good before it fits into any theme,” he says. “And it will. But it will also surprise the members and take them through a new dining experience with us.”
View menus and photos from Beacon Hill’s past wine dinners:
View the menu with pairings for Beacon Hill’s Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars dinner here.
View the menu with pairings for Beacon Hill’s Orin Swift Wine Dinner here.
View the menu with pairings for Beacon Hill’s Provence Wine Dinner here.
The Best Meal Unplanned
Mizner Country Club, Delray Beach, Fla.
According to Orlin McLendon, Executive Chef of Mizner Country Club, Delray Beach, Fla., the theme of each of his new chef’s table dinners is “unscripted.”
Hosted every fourteen days, six members are invited into the club’s kitchen for a dining experience unlike any other.
“I want members to see behind the curtain to experience what it’s like to be in the kitchen—with the heat, the sounds, and the smells,” says McLendon, who has been with Mizner CC for nearly one year.
On the night of the event, McLendon instructs members to meet in the club bar at 5:45 for a cocktail. Once everyone has arrived, he invites the group to follow him back into the kitchen, where the entire culinary team begins beating on pots and pans to welcome them.
Seven glasses of champagne are poured, a toast is made, and the dinner is officially underway. Meanwhile, the kitchen continues to crank out a la carte and to-go orders, while Clubhouse Manager Daniel Salgado (see photo, above) offers wine pairings to the kitchen’s new guests.
“The reason we call these dinners ‘unscripted’ is because the menu changes at the drop of a hat, like when the dining room seats a party of twelve,” says McLendon. “We need the flexibility to change and take the members on a true culinary adventure with us.”
The first event was supposed to be a five-course dinner, but it turned into nine. “Not only was it a magical experience for the members, it was also an opportunity to challenge myself and my staff,” says McLendon. “We had to think on the fly and be especially creative to not only serve members in the dining room, but also those in the kitchen.”
At the end, members left the club enlightened and energized.
“There is no better way to create culinary ambassadors than to bring them into your kitchen and show them how you do what you do on a daily basis,” says McLendon.